If you’re going to write a movie about Tommy Wiseau prepare for a lot of script notes from Tommy Wiseau. Well, the term “script notes” may be a generous way of looking at it. Over the course of, combined, ten hours of phone calls from Wiseau that were relayed to the writing team of Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber (who wrote the script adapted from Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s book of the same name, The Disaster Artist), the end result of those “notes” were things like, “Why does Seth Rogen’s character have so much screen time?” Rogen plays Sandy Schklair, who was hired as a script supervisor on Wiseau’s The Room, which wound up being more what would be the traditional director’s role. But to this day, Wiseau still seems to hold a grudge against Schklair. Neustadter remembers, “It’s like, ‘Why do you have this Sandy guy in so much of the script?’ We were like, ‘That’s not a script note.’ I think it was giving Tommy an opportunity to just air old grievances.”
Another Wiseau-related problem was a stipulation that Wiseau himself had to appear somewhere in The Disaster Artist. And Wiseau is not an actor who just seamlessly blends in – especially in a movie in which James Franco (who also directed) is playing a spot-on version of Wiseau.
“So at first it was like, where are we going to put this guy?,” says Neustadter. At first the solution was to add Wiseau to a sequence that eventually wound up getting cut from the finished film. Neustadter continues, “There’s a scene where Greg goes off to Romania. He gets a part, so he’s shooting in Romania. So that’s perfect, Tommy can be one of the extras in Romania.” Greg, played by Dave Franco, is Tommy’s friend and almost, at times, too-earnest confidant. There’s a yin and yang to Tommy and Greg in The Disaster Artist that fuels why this movie works. As an audience, we certainly care about The Room, this insane movie these two made. But it’s their friendship that provides the backbone of the story. If we don’t care about their friendship, The Disaster Artist becomes nothing more than those fun Adam Scott videos that recreate the opening credits of television shows like Simon & Simon and Too Close For Comfort. So it’s kind of nice that the scene that the real-life Wiseau would be in was opposite Dave Franco’s Greg.
Of course, Wiseau wasn’t having it, stipulating that a scene with Wiseau had to be filmed with Franco. When the idea was sent to Wiseau, he responded, “No, no, James Franco, not Dave Franco.”
Eventually, a scene was shot – one taking place at a Hollywood party of some sort – with James Franco, playing Tommy Wiseau, and Wiseau playing some random party guest. Weber remembers that, of course, Wiseau still wasn’t happy, “He shows up and says, ‘This is it?’ He wanted more lines. And then he just did his own thing, which is what we knew would happen.”
Neustadter adds, “And then we were like, how are we going to put this in the movie? No Hollywood party would have these two guys at it. That would never be a thing. No two people would sound like that at one Hollywood party.”
Weber is quick to point out, too, “He had hair and make-up approval, so that look that he has is his own choice.”
The easy solution was to just not include it in the final movie, because apparently Wiseau forgot to add “it can’t be cut” to his list of demands. But after some pushback with James Franco, the scene ended up in the final movie, appearing after the final credits. When I ask Neustadter and Weber if they think Wiseau is upset about the location of this scene in the final film, Weber quickly says, “I don’t think so.”
After a pause, Neustadter adds, “Maybe.”
Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber were, on the surface, odd choices to write a script that is ostensibly about The Room, since neither of them had even seen The Room. The pair met in the late ‘90s while working for Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal’s Tribeca Productions. They had a breakout film in 2009 with (500) Days of Summer.
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, the film takes a one-sided, non-linear approach to a 500-day romantic relationship. Since 2009, popular culture has, let’s say, soured a bit on the whole “sad white guy” trope in films and actions that once came off as endearing — think Lloyd Dobler holding up a boom box in Say Anything — now comes off as, well, not always so great.
“We thought a lot about that during the making of (500) Days of Summer,” says Neustadter. He continues, “Because we were watching Say Anything and seeing what a stalker he’s being. He’s being an absolute, crazy stalker. But it takes the time to recognize that times change.”
When looking back at his own film, Neustadter admits, “There’s a different sensitivity, probably, in 2017. For example, a disgruntled ex-boyfriend calling her ‘a bitch’ can’t play now.” He adds, “The one thing we’d probably do different, right now, if we made it again: we thought it was very obvious to us this was one person’s perspective on a relationship. And we intentionally don’t get to know anything [about her]. And because of the mathematics of a two-hander romantic comedy, we are so used to that, some people thought it was just an imbalance. He gets all the whatever and she doesn’t get enough. That was by design, but I think we would highlight that even more so that you knew he’s not the hero of the movie, he’s just the protagonist. Not everybody saw it as clearly as we thought they might.”
Neustadter and Weber followed up their success with the 2013 Sundance favorite, The Spectacular Now. Then they took a different direction with adapting a book into a screenplay for 2014’s The Fault in Our Stars. They had obviously done films about relationships before, but maybe not so YA-focused. When they agreed to adapt John Green’s novel, Neustadter had just lost his father and wasn’t planning on doing much of anything for awhile.
“I was not great,” remembers Neustadter, “but someone sent us that book and we were like, ‘We could do that right now so quickly. Let’s just do it.’ And we wrote it in six days and never looked back.”
Weber adds, “The beginning of that dialogue of every movie that’s going to have our name on it is, ‘What is the version we would be excited to go see?’ So it was, ‘What is the version of this that feels like a 21st century Terms of Endearment?’” The Fault in Our Stars, a film about two teenagers with cancer who fall in love starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, would go on to gross over $300 million worldwide.
“I didn’t know if they had seen The Room or not,” says director and star James Franco. “We approached Scott and Mike because they first and foremost are incredible writers. And they are so good at adaptation, they elevate everything they bring to the screen.”
Neustadter finally watched The Room shortly after they were hired for the gig. Weber watched it only after the pair had written their first draft of the script. A shot-by-shot remake of The Room just did not interest them.
“Look, The Room has passionate fans, but that is a small subset of film culture,” says Weber.
Neustadter quickly adds, “Or they think it’s a Brie Larson movie.”
Instead, Neustadter and Weber went back to what they are best known for, writing about relationships. Only this time it’s the relationship between a weird man and his younger friend who try to make it big in Hollywood.
“The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars are so moving,” says Franco. “More moving than you expect teenage love stories to be. Much of that is due to the smooth, deep, subtle work of Scott and Mike.”
And yes, when Neustadter first heard about this film, that was being produced by a team that involved James Franco and Seth Rogen, there were some initial reservations, “We just assumed there was a decent chance they wanted to make a This is the End, hilarious hijinks version of this. We wanted to write an Ed Wood kind of story about outsiders, dreamers, and friends. We came at it from a more anthropological approach. We related very much to that outsider idea.”
Franco insists he never wanted hijinks, “Instead of a spoof, they wrote us a love story. Which is exactly what we wanted.”
At one point I asked Neustadter and Weber what it’s like to try to get into Tommy Wiseau’s head, because there’s a good chance not many people have tried as much as they have. It’s at this point that they both looked at each other and each made a grim face.
Unfortunately, there’s some pretty dark stuff in The Disaster Artist, specifically how Tommy Wiseau treated his cast and crew, especially Juliette Danielle, who plays Lisa in The Room. In The Disaster Artist, Franco’s Wiseau is often seen berating her for her looks during a scene in which she appears nude.
“Tommy does some reprehensible things during the making of this movie. He crosses a lot of lines and then you’re watching everybody react to that,” says Neustadter. He continues, “In a different movie he’d be the hero, start to finish, and you’d cut the scene where he crosses the line. He’s harassing Lisa. He’s harassing the actress, Juliette, which happened in real life and she’s still sort of scarred by it and we didn’t want to shy away from the truth. He mistreated his cast.”
But, for Neustadter and Weber, the movie still lives or dies on the friendship between Tommy and Greg.
“The whole movie for us was not, is the movie they’re making going to turn out good or not?,” says Neustadter. “That’s not the suspense, because if the movie turns out good you would have heard of it. And if you have heard of it, you know it doesn’t turn out good. The suspense of this movie is this friendship: is it going to survive what making this movie does to them. “
Weber adds, “We tried to humanize him, because he is a person. We didn’t set out to decode The Room. The answers to questions wouldn’t all be that satisfying. But for us, it was never ‘Let’s get to the bottom of who this guy is.’”
The writing duo, however, did witness what they perceive as a hint that Tommy Wiseau may be experiencing some regret regarding his behavior after all. The Disaster Artist premiered as a technically unfinished film at South By Southwest last March, with Wiseau in attendance. Six months later, at the film’s Toronto Film Festival premiere, Neustadter and Weber were sitting behind Wiseau (who was watching the film for a second time) and Weber noticed something interesting.
“Tommy was sitting right in front of us in Toronto,” remembers Weber. “As Tommy starts becoming a bit of a monster on set, he left the theater and went to the bathroom during the stretch of his worst behavior. Part of me wonders if he knows he put Greg through the ringer.”
In the end, Neustadter may not have even attempted to decode The Room or Wiseau himself, but, actually, maybe he did after all.
“I understand Tommy I think better than I understand Greg, his motivations are very clear,” says Neustadter. “He wanted a friend.”
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.